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elvira kohn

I am Jewish and feel Jewish, and I always say that. I'm a member of the community and pay the membership fee. Nowadays I don't go to the community because I'm a bit old, and I walk slowly. I'm not religious because I wasn't brought up that way, and now I'm too old to change my life. Most of my friends have died, but I still have dear people who care about me. And I still have memories that I cherish and that help me in my old days.
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I lived with my mother until her death in 1977. The two of us were very close, and it was difficult for me when she died. I was left alone; I had no relatives, no family of my own. I was also in a dilemma as to how to bury my mother. It was a very difficult decision for me to make.

Many JNA officials and my co-workers came to my mother's funeral. Some gave a speech. I couldn't have a rabbi bury her in front of the party members. And I couldn't have the party members speak in front of a rabbi. The two don't go together. So at last I decided not to have a rabbi at the funeral. It wasn't easy, but there was no other choice. I wasn't allowed to have a Jewish funeral for my mother.

But I did something else. I arranged with the community that for the whole first month after my mother's death, the Kaddish was recited for her every Friday and Saturday. That was something I could do. Even though all the officials knew that I was Jewish, and that my mother was Jewish, I couldn't have both, the Party and the rabbi, at the funeral. And even though I had been retired since 1964, and my mother died in 1977, I was still in the same circle of people, shared the same spirit, and thus wasn't allowed to. That was the spirit of the time.
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During the communist times, I was in the JNA, I was a member of the Party. I worked and socialized with others who were in the Party; that was my life, that was my world. Today people say terrible things about communism, but it wasn't so bad after all. Maybe in certain aspects it was better than it is today; only, we aren't allowed to say that, it just doesn't sound right.

Immediately after the war, I went to the Jewish community on Palmoticeva Street to become a member. Through the community I re-established relations with my aunt Adela in Brazil and my cousin Zlata in Israel. I've never been to Brazil, but to Israel I went several times.

The first time I went in 1950 to visit Zlata. It wasn't easy to get permission to leave the country because I was among the high-ranking officers in the Party. At last, after many attempts and rejections, I spoke with one officer-general who helped me get a permission to go to Israel. I left from Rijeka on a boat, and arrived in Haifa. It was an amazing trip because there I met with Zlata and her family and I also saw many people who had been interned on Rab with me. But, I never developed any deep feelings for Israel. I was also invited to Zlata's son's bar mitzvah and I went.

Then there was her son's wedding, and I went again, and I think I visited Israel another couple of times. Had I not been in the JNA and the Party, I would have considered to move to Israel. But I was in the army, and I was very much connected to it, and I couldn't help myself. In addition, my mother wasn't so young any more, and it was a risk to go because I didn't know what kind of job I could get there. The Party never criticized me for going to Israel. Everyone always respected me because I always openly admitted that I was Jewish and never hid my origins.

Both my mother and I became members of the Jewish community. I attended celebrations for holidays, if I was in Zagreb. Because I traveled a lot, I couldn't become more active in the community. The fact that I was in the army and went to the community at the same time had no consequences. I never directly told anyone in the army that I went to the Jewish community; that was my personal and private business. If I was in Zagreb for Chanukkah or Purim, I went to the celebrations.

I took my mother to the synagogue for Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur and waited outside. I didn't enter because I didn't want the wrath of the Gods, so to speak. There were services for holidays that my mother always attended, and I know that there were people who went, and the people who conducted the services, but I'm not in the position to say much more about it. When I went, I mostly went to the afternoon meetings and tea parties, or to the meetings organized by the women's department.
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There was a Jewish community and a synagogue on Zudioska Street. I think there were about one hundred Jews in Dubrovnik. I didn't take part in the life of the community that much. I always attended the services and celebrations on main holidays but that was about it. It was a Sephardi community.

Dubrovnik was a small town and everyone intermingled; I didn't feel that I needed to be part of the community life. I felt Jewish, declared myself Jewish, had Jewish friends but didn't feel that I had to do more. On Saturdays I worked so I didn't go to the synagogue but sometimes I went to the services Friday night. My mother was more involved in the community life because she had more free time. She was very friendly with other Jewish women and they often visited one another.
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There was a Jewish community in Vinkovci and in general there was a rich and lively Jewish life. We celebrated Chanukkah and Purim together and had parties on holidays. Those took place in the cultural center in Vinkovci, not in the community building.

I assume that there wasn't enough space in the community building for such celebrations because a lot of people came to celebrate. The Jews were the ones who organized and participated in the celebrations, of course. We gave performances on Chanukkah and Purim. It was customary to dress up and put on masks for Purim. We danced, sang Jewish songs and socialized with other Jews, our friends, and always had a good time.

Within the Jewish community there was also a Jewish Youth Club and I was a member. We used to meet in the community building and talked, learned some Hebrew and some Jewish history, exchanged knowledge and ideas, or just spent time together. Sometimes we had visits from the youth of the Jewish Community Vukovar or from other Jewish communities, or we went to visit them.

Then we interacted with our fellow Jews and spoke about Jewish life in other places. That was always interesting and I enjoyed meeting with Jews from other places. We had many lectures and discussions on ideas about creating a Jewish state. I suppose that we were Zionist-oriented and nurtured the Zionist ideology. There were no summer camps, not that I remember, but we organized inter-town visits and exchange.
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I attended public school, the regular elementary and high school in Vinkovci. There was no Jewish school. There were pupils of all kinds of religions and nationalities in this school and my friends were Jews and non- Jews alike. In my class in particular, there were 30 pupils, of which 13 were Jews, around 10 Eastern Orthodox because there were many Serb villages around Vinkovci, and the rest were Catholics and maybe some Evangelic.

Although there was no Jewish school, there was Jewish religious instruction, which was obligatory. Every Sunday we had religious classes and received grades; it was part of the school curriculum. We had a religious instructor whose name was Pollak. He taught us Hebrew, the Talmud, the Torah, some Jewish history and traditions.

On Saturdays we didn't have to attend classes in school, but we had to go to the synagogue. We also had to obtain a written statement signed by Rabbi Frankfurter saying that we were at the service on Saturday morning, and we had to bring this statement to school. It was like a confirmation that we were in the synagogue instead of being in class.
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baby pisetskaya

Since my daughter's death a social employee of Hesed helps me. I'm so grateful to her that she cleans my apartment and brings me medications and food products. I think it is so good that we have Hesed. I appreciate what they are doing.
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Jankiel Kulawiec

And before, when Anna was younger and healthier she used to go to the TSKZ with me to various Jewish events, and it never bothered her.

Now I go to the congregation alone on Saturdays. My wife can't get about well enough to accompany me.
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A Jewish theater was organized. [Editor's note: the Gerson Duo Amateur Jewish Theater occupied the former German army cinema auditorium on Nowy Swiat Street for a few years after the war.] I remember that we set it up out of our own pockets and with our own work. It had been a military cinema, German, and then Russian. There was this large auditorium, and we built this super-smashing stage, and it was a fancy theater. Actors would come from Warsaw and Wroclaw. I remembered once they played 'The Fiddler on the Roof.'

There were various different Jewish events, there was an active Jewish choir in the same place. I belonged to the choir myself at the beginning of the 1950s, before I started working in the foundry. The chairperson was Roza Gottlieb. There was an amateur drama club. And there was a club house, where you could chat, read a book, a newspaper - both in Yiddish, e.g. Folksztyme [22] and in Polish. It was open every day, and there was a buffet there too.
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For a long time I didn't have much contact with Jewish institutions here in Legnica. When the congregation was forming on Grodzka Street, I didn't go, because I'd never been religious. And I didn't want to have anything to do with the Jewish committee, because they were all crooks, and I've never kept company with crooks. I've never had anything from Jews here, and I came to Legnica from Russia as poor as a church mouse. And I had a wife and small child, a two-year-old boy. Only when I retired did I start coming to the congregation here more regularly to keep up contact with other Jews. And I go to Ladek-Zdrój on holiday, where that Lauder Foundation [21] has a center.

But I did keep up close ties with the TSKZ. Thanks to that institution Jewish life in Legnica was very active.
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And all that time I thought a few times about going to Israel. The first time was when the Haganah [19] was being formed - with friends we wanted to go as volunteers. We even went to Left Poalei Zion to sort it out, but something didn't work out, I can't remember what.
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The only problems I had were through Jews. It happened once when I was sitting in the TSKZ [18] club playing cards with four or five other Jews, one of whom was this keen communist.
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I joined the party [PZPR] in 1951, when I was working at Dobrobyt. It was Jews who persuaded me. They said that if I wanted to achieve anything, I had to join. But before that I'd steered clear of the PPR and the PZPR. And I belonged to the Bund, and I'd gone there as a member of Zukunft. They had their headquarters here in Legnica on Piastowska Street, and I used to go there to meetings. That was a bit more of a democratic party, you see, and Jewish through and through. But in the PZPR I wasn't such a keen activist, I didn't get particularly involved in their affairs - I had to so I did, no more.
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I worked for that guy Krems for a while, and then I went to Prokombinat - that was this Russian enterprise on the square. They had various craft workshops - cobblers and tailors. I lasted there a year, and then it was 1948 and Jewish cooperatives started to come together. I went to one of them - it was called Dobrobyt [Prosperity in Polish]. There were others - Jednosc [Unity in Polish], Postep [Progress in Polish] - but as a cobbler I ended up with Dobrobyt.

I worked there until 1952, when they started building the copper works. At that time the PZPR [16] committee came to me with the offer of a job in the factory. There was no tradition of heavy industry in Legnica, and no one to work there. There was this big propaganda thing, they said to me that shoes would be made in factories, and that I was wasting myself, and I could be someone big, a great metalworker. So I went to the copper works. They sent me on courses: first to Trzebinia for three months, then twice to Szopienice, for nine months and six months, respectively. When I came back I was a qualified employee, a qualified metalworker. In 1953, at Christmas, we made our first cast. After that I stayed in the copper works as head refiner, for 27 years.
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So we went out into the town, and there we were directed to the Jewish committee [14]. The committee was on Dziennikarska Street. And there, there were various advertisements for pre-war communists, Bundists, Poalei Zion [15], members of different parties, to join the committee. So I said to Szmulik Goldberg that there was nothing for it but to pretend that we had belonged to the Bund, or actually to Zukunft, the Bund youth organization. So we went to the head of the Bund in Legnica, who was called Besser. And he says to me that if I'm from Losice and was in the Bund and Zukunft, I must know this guy Zuckermann, who had been a big Bund activist in Losice. And they gave me his address; he lived in Legnica, on Piastowska Street. I went to him to ask for his word. He just asked my name, and then if I was the eldest son of Moszko Kulawiec. It turned out that Father had known him well. So he gave me his word and thanks to that I was able to get a place to live and a job.
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